Academic journal article Shofar

The Halakah, Sacred Events, and Time Consciousness in Rosenzweig and Soloveitchik

Academic journal article Shofar

The Halakah, Sacred Events, and Time Consciousness in Rosenzweig and Soloveitchik

Article excerpt

Introduction

Many modern Jews might have difficulty regarding traditional Jewish life, life according to the halakah, as an intense drama. The life of halakic observance can often seem-for both insiders and outsiders-repetitive, monotonous, and distinctively uneventful. Research in the area of the philosophy of halakah has similarly not focused on the ostensibly eventful character of halakic life. It has rather tended to understand halakic decision making and practice as generated by a particular kind of legal reasoning, or as originating from discrete historical conditions. This article proposes to consider the phenomenon of halakic observance not only from the outside, as the product of a legal or historical process, but also from the inside, as a kind of "event," or set of events, undergone and reported by those who participate in the rhythms and cadences of halakic life.

For our purposes, an event will be regarded as an occurrence judged by human beings (individually or collectively) to represent a significant, qualitative modification of experience. Events will be understood as resulting from meaningful movements or changes that take place within the dimension of humanly experienced time. On the basis of this characterization, an event is to be distinguished from a fixed state. A religious event, as distinct from other events, is experienced as taking place in relation to the divine, or the eternal-even though, like all events, it too takes place within the dimension of humanly experienced time. Further on, when I discuss the reflections of Rosenzweig and Soloveitchik on the eventfulness of halakic observance, I will remark on their attempts to understand the interaction between time and eternity as a central feature of religious experience. According to Rosenzweig and Soloveitchik, it is this relationship between time and eternity that gives the one who observes the halakah a sense that he or she is participating in a sacred event. Fulfilling the prescriptions of the halakah, or responding to a divine commandment, entails not only an experience of restriction or obedience; rather, enacting a mitzvah introduces one into a special "quality time," one wherein the prosaic and the transcendent are encountered simultaneously.

As regards religious events in particular, it is often asked whether such events should be considered objective, that is, they really happen or happened, or subjective, that is, they are mere constructions (at best) and figments (at worst) of an avid religious imagination. Following Buber, we will not construe religious events as either wholly objective (occurring, as it were, outside of human consciousness and independent of the experiencing subject) or as wholly subjective (occurring, as it were, inside the consciousness of the experiencing subject independent of what may or may not take place in the outside world). We will take the testimony of many great religious spirits seriously and refer to religious events as occurrences that are witnessed as taking place between human beings and God, between human beings and the world, or between human beings and other human beings.1

An "event" perspective on the halakah can be gained by accessing a variety of disciplines such as psychology, phenomenology, or anthropology. The issue of the "eventfulness" of halakic life can be profitably viewed through the prisms of many different theories such as performance theory or group dynamics. My modest contribution to this discussion derives from the discipline of modern Jewish thought. I choose to engage in the question of the halakah as "eventful" by way of the testimony of two modern Jewish thinkers. Neither Franz Rosenzweig nor Joseph B. Soloveitchik conceived of their thought systems as disembodied disquisitions on the ultimate "essence" or "tenets" of Judaism. They rather saw their religious philosophy as a distillation and structural articulation of the experienced "events" of Jewish life. …

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